City: Toronto, Ontario
Soundcloud: Death Cohen
What is Death Cohen inspired by?
When I started DJing I was just doing it under Japain, which is my production team with my brother, and then he said “hey man wanna find a different name so we can diversify” because Japain is really not meant to be a DJ group necessarily. It was kind of a bigger thing, we just didn’t want to lump it in. I knew I had to think of a name which is always very hard to do, there’s so many bad names out there.
It took me a long time actually, I maybe came up with and threw out ten different names. When I started DJing for fun I had a new name for every time I would DJ. I would be DJ Gylenhall, DJ Vanderbelt, D-Jay-Z. Anyway, I’m laying in bed one night and – I mean I love the OC, the OC’s a very big part of my life and who I am. In my earlier years when I was a little more spritely and less jaded I was often compared to Seth Cohen. Everyone was like “you’re just like Seth Cohen” and I was thinking about that and I was thinking about how I turned out as a human being and I was like “I turned into the evil version of Seth Cohen like Death Cohen.”
I feel like a lot of creative people, once you get the idea together and formed, you can just run with it. This is my logo, print off a sticker, put it on my laptop, all these ideas started falling into place. I had a new way to express the avenue, and as I produce we write so many different styles it’s hard to try and – as Japain – to release a bunch of different things that sounds disjointed sonically. So as Death Cohen I can start producing original material. Basically just kind of comes together once you get the name.
When did Death Cohen officially start?
I would say the beginning of the year, January. [I’m] about five months into the project now. I went down to Florida and ran away from my life in Toronto for a bit and hit the reset button and just kind of used it as an opportunity to really dig through the internet, and find a bunch of sounds I really wanted to represent my taste as a DJ.
That’s the cool thing about being a DJ now, it’s really a reflection of your own personal taste in how you play your songs.
You’re not just a wedding DJ, where you’re there to knock out bangers and call it a night, there’s so so so vast a library on the internet that you can find a song re-imagined in your taste and you include that in your set with a group of other songs that fit into it. Once you really start to build up your crate, your libraries of “here’s how I want people to perceive me as a DJ” all comes together.
When I got back to Toronto it was really important for me to put out a mix, first of all you just need it to get certain gigs. I put together my first mix and I knew I wanted it to be an hour long and I knew I didn’t want it to drag on too crazy or anything, just really concise. By the time I was done with what eventually became ‘Booty Call’ I still had a mix worth of songs. I like to put my mixes together organically. I know a lot of people, they’ll just put their songs into a DAW like Abelton or Logic and they’ll assemble their mix, they’ll cut and paste and transition and automate a perfect mix, or they’ll do a live set and record their decks individually and then go in and ‘cut the fat’ and tighten up and finish it afterwards. That’s all well and good, I’m not the type of person who tells people how to do their shit, but for me personally I knew that making my mixes I really wanted it to be a true experience. All my mixes that are on Soundcloud, that’s a one shot. I pressed record and actually DJed the mix, you can hear the imperfections and I love that about it.
I think [with] electronic music it’s so important that you hear the human element of it.
I don’t really think ‘Booty Call’ and ‘White Lines’ are that different I just think I really had a lot of music I really wanted to share with people that I was fucking with and I wasn’t able to condense it into the one mix. I let ‘Booty Call’ go out and a month later I released ‘White Lines’ even though it was done technically the day after.
Then I did a mix with Plusmood. My good friend Sophie Jones did a mix for them and I found their Soundcloud through that mix, and I love what these guys are doing, I think it’s a great curation and I really wanted to be a part of it so I shot out a little Soundcloud message and they said “go for it” and I did. I thought it was cool because it was an opportunity – I would say my Plusmood mix is the most different from ‘White Lines’ or ‘Booty Call’ because they are very much dancey, housey, loungey type upbeat, it’s really about dancing and movement. My Plusmood is way more wavy and about chilling out. There’s still those moments about dance or whatever but it’s more about catching a wave and hip-hop. Stuff that still sonically meets that characteristic that I’m trying to put forward as Death Cohen.
Was there a different process in making your Plusmood mix, knowing the audience was bigger?
Absolutely. It’s still a bunch of songs that I found and really loved and wanted to share with people, but there are definitely songs, or styles – with ‘Booty Call’ and ‘White Lines’ you can hear a progression where it starts off a little more chill and slower and by the end of it you’re going full fist pump, particularly with ‘White Lines.’ I knew that’s not Plusmood’s vibe really, they have dancier and upbeat stuff – I’ve got some pretty heavy bass shit that I love. You just know that I’ll stay away from that section of the crate. I definitely tried to cater more to the styles and mixes that they already had, because they have a built in listenership that kind of expects that kind of vibe.
Do you find that Toronto inspires you when it comes to music making?
Everything. I feel like I’m sick of hearing Toronto people talk about the fact that they’re from Toronto because to the outside world people have gotta be so over hearing about how dope Toronto is at this point in time, but everyone here is on a very specific wave and there’s a very tangible cultural movement that’s happening in this city.
I’ve lived here since I was eleven and I’ve been a musician ever since and it wasn’t until five or six years ago that a real youth oriented, music oriented culture started to emerge. Obviously a huge part of that is because of Drake and OVO, I love how it’s starting to trickle off and effect different elements of the culture here. It’s not just about hip hop, you see the evolution in the venues and the bars and the spirits and the DJ’s, in the original compositions. There’s such a wave that is Toronto right now and so much of that is to do with the seasons we have, we’re a very young city so there’s not a lot of very cool history here – there’s probably some historians that are like “what are you talking about,” but traditionally it’s a protestant founded city that was pretty sleepy for a long time, now it’s a crazy night life and amazing restaurants and lots of good DJs, producers and artists. I spent some time in Florida and partied in Miami and I love other parts of the world, I’ve been to London it’s great, I’ve been to Paris it’s great, all over Italy it’s cool but for me as a musician as a creator I have to be in this city right now, I can’t leave it. This is the cultural renaissance right now, it’s like living in New York in the 1920’s – there’s shit going on, it’s a golden age and I can’t image missing out on that.
I’ve been in bands my whole life and I remember trying to talk to labels and many conversations were “we don’t know how to break into America,” because it was all about escaping. Now, L.A., New York, Chicago, Miami, they’re looking at Toronto, they’re looking at the six and asking what’s coming out of the six. It’s a real thing and it sounds hilarious, but this is special this something that 20-30 years from now everyone who was here and was a part of it will look back and be like “yeah I remember when the six was on a wave.”
As a creator the tones of this city, the architecture of this city, the culture in this city, it’s the most multi-cultural city in North America, maybe even in the world. That’s a big part of who we are, my brother and I grew up on the east end and we went to Scarborough and all my dearest friends, it’s like a cultural rainbow. That has so much to do with the music because we as listeners – there’s a definite sound in a box that we built for ourselves, but there’s so much room inside that box.
The Toronto creator is just as inspired by the Toronto listener and vise versa. Let the city tell you if it’s good and if it leaks out to the rest of the world then were happy.
As a musician and DJ who continues to put his work online what would you say is one of the biggest struggles or something that’s good?
I’m a very restless creator. I’m not the type of person who likes to create and sit on things, I’m not good with launching, I’m not very patient. I like to create and release. There’s some cons to that, but I think the internet’s done a great job of just “if you make a song and you’re fucking with it and you wanna show people put it online,” put it on your Soundcloud and just walk away from it.
The world will tell you if it’s good, your friends will tell you if it’s good, the bigger community at large will tell you if it’s good, the entirety of the internet – it can blow up for you, I love that.
I think that’s such a great thing. I personally take down tons of things I release because I’m over it, but that’s great that’s part of the experience now. Back in the day if you were an upcoming band and you release something and it was terrible, you had a terrible CD out forever, and then you get a little bit of success off that CD and your next one’s a little bit better, and then people get to be like “oh cool I like hearing this shitty old stuff in comparison to the really good new stuff.” That’s always cool, but I don’t know, I think as a millennial composer I love the Internet, I’m inspired by the Internet, I’m inspired by how people put things out and how often things get put out. I love that, I think it’s a huge pro.
Can you tell me about the transition from mostly doing production work to now doing more DJ gigs?
I get to be inspired to how people react to music more, which is a huge thing. That is the tricky part about being a bedroom producer, you just produce in your bedroom and you’re sitting down and listening and playing and it just goes right online. When you’re independent – when you’re not in a band specifically you’re not ‘giging’. It’s very similar as a DJ because I get to go and DJ these parties and see what gets people excited, see what’s songs get people excited, see what parts of songs gets people excited, how they react to rises, how they react to drops, what kind of beats they’re really starting to fuck with, what kind of beats really shut them down and I get to see that and take that and when I’m writing my own Death Cohen stuff, I’m trying to write music to fit into that vibe. It’s a very handy tool DJing as a producer because you get to really see the impact of music on people which is really the point. It would be great if I could go to everyone’s bedrooms while their headphones are plugged in at night and stand over their bed and be like all right their toes tapping – amongst other things – but you don’t get to because that’s totally illegal. It’s fun when you get to put them in a club and be like “here you go”.
I feel like I’ve always been interested in how music can progress an evening, and really make or break a great time and getting to see that live and at parties really helps me as a composer.
What makes Death Cohen different than your other music platforms such as Japain.
I mean the biggest thing is that Death Cohen is just me. I love collaborating with my brother, I love what we’re capable of doing in Japain. We write songs in Japain that I can’t write by myself because he’s such an integral part of that and as a producer it’s great for me – when I work with my brother in Japain it’s cool because I feel like I’m producing him, Japain is a lot of his tonality as a composer and his emotions as a composer and I get to really focus on that. There’s a give and take when you’re collaborating with someone, it’s like meeting someone in the middle. I love fifty percent of these ideas and I don’t like the other fifty. Same way I like fifty percent of your ideas and I don’t like the other fifty. You compromise and that’s what creation is when you’re in a collaborative project, but when I’m doing it by myself it’s just like “do I think this is rad? Sick it’s done.” I’ll show it to people and get opinions but I mean I don’t know, as a composer particularly as Death Cohen, I just get to do whatever the fuck I want. I like this song I want to write a song that sounds like this song, I like this sound scape this is what I’m going for. When you’re writing with someone they might be really into a specific sound or setting and you might hate that setting, so then how do you make it so I still like it and you like it? When you’re writing for yourself it’s like “yup cool throw it in.”
I’m not precious and particularly with Death Cohen I just kinna do what ever the fuck I want musically.
Who’s the most underrated artist?
There’s this guy Samuel Lox and he’s from somewhere in the UK – forgive my ignorance for not knowing the exact spot. Boiler Room which is a great website posted a little video on their Instagram on this group called Scum Fam, their a grime outfit, and the 15 seconds on Instagram I was like “ this is a dope song I gotta go find it,” so I looked him up on Soundcloud and I found this dude Samuel Lox, and this guy is amazing. He’s the best unknown artist I’ve ever heard in my life, he’s insane, particularly from a Toronto stand point this dude’s on some fucking next level PND but grime R&B shit, it’s fucking fire he’s amazing. He’s a great lyricist he’s got a great cadence to his voice and he’s [only] got 300 followers on Soundcloud and three re-shares of all the songs. His sound is massive and impressive. I found him and reached out right away and said we need to collaborate on something and he got back to me because he’s not a big superstar. He will be massive, if OVO found this dude they would send him a cheque with a contract on it, he’s that good.
Anything else to add?
What a time to be alive.
Photos by: accidentintent